Irreversible Binomials: Definition, Types with examples

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Irreversible Binomials are word pairs that always situate themselves side by side while being used in speech or script. There is a handful of those present in the English language. This article will explain and categorize different types of binomials so that they can be exemplified and explained in further detail.


What is Irreversible Binomial

The word, "Binomial" stands for “a sum of two words” as “bi” indicates two. It is widely used in Mathematics to address paired-up terms in Algebra. In English Linguistics and Stylistics, Irreversible Binomials signify pairs of words that are teamed up based on some kind of connection between them. They belong to the same Parts of Speech.

Only by being used in pairs and in one specific order can they convey the entirety of the expression without sounding a little off to trained ears. What order will they be used in and with the use of what conjunctions would depend on how the native speakers have been using them over the years.

The natives have nearly no trouble learning them since they see and hear them used in the right order from birth. They can intuitively realize when the words are used in the "wrong" order. In most cases, messing up the order does not alter their meaning or make them confusing in any way.

For example, the pair, “fire and ice” can be mistaken by the new users or learners of English as - “ice and fire” since there is no particular obligation according to the English grammar to always say “fire” before ice.

Irreversible Binomials are also called Binomials, Nonreversible Word Pairs, Binomial Expressions etc. They are in many ways very similar to Collocations in nature.


Types of Irreversible Binomials

There are a large number of binomials in the English language. They can be categorized into a few different types and subtypes based on a number of similarities or the conjunctive words used.

Related Pairs

The irreversible binomial pairs under this type have some kind or relation with the words they are paired with. The relations range from logic, same or opposite meanings, usage in legal registers etc. Let’s take a look at these types of binomials along with sufficient examples aiding to their understandability -

1. Logical Binomials

Logical Binomials are usually word pairs that are used in a logical order. To explain logical order, one must take note of what comes before what is among the words. In the case of some of these binomials, one must take note of how they conform to the particular order. Examples -


Meaning and Logic

Signed and sealed

No document can be signed after being sealed inside an envelope

Cause and effect

The cause comes first and the effects follow

Catch and release

Cannot release something unless it’s been caught first

Rank and file

Unless a lot is ranked first, they cannot be filed by rank

2. Antonym Binomials

Antonym Binomials are two words that are opposite to or antonyms of one another in sense. In most cases, they are linked with some manner of conjunction to complete the meaning. Examples -



Dusk till dawn

All-day long (Dusk is the end of daylight and dawn is the start)

Floor to ceiling

Entirely (Floor is at the bottom and ceiling is on top of a room)

Ebb and flow

Continuity (Ebb is the decrease and flow is the increase of water in the sea)

Head over heels

A somersault position (Head sits on top of the torso and heels, below the feet)

Sooner or later

Eventually (Soon is quick and late is the polar opposite)

3.   Synonym Binomials

Here, the word pairs are made of synonymous terms or words that indicate the same or similar things. Synonym Binomials usually emphasize one particular sense with a pair of terms. Examples -



Hand over fist

Rapidly (Hand and fist signify the same part of the human body)

Null and void

No power or validity (Null is zero and void means emptiness)

Cheek by jowl

Very close (Cheek and jowl refers to the same part of a human face)

Herbs and spices

Herbs are fresh and spices are dried parts of the same plants

4.   Alliterated Binomials

Alliterated Binomials are based on alliteration or words that start with the same consonant sound. These alliterated binomials almost sound rhythmic because of the repetitive sounds. A few alliterated binomials are listed below along with their meanings-



Bag and baggage

(“ba” sound alliterated) With all one’s belongings

Friend or foe

(“fa” sound alliterated) Either friend or enemy

Mix and match

(“ma” sound alliterated) Mix and combine

Tit for tat

(“ta” sound alliterated) Action in revenge

5.   Similar Sounding Binomials

These binomials are usually very similar sounding in nature and they almost always end with the same sound. Do check out the examples below -



Hocus pocus

Meaningless talks

My way or the highway

Follow the instructions or leave

Never, ever

Emphasized never

Son of a gun

Affectionate or jokingly address

6.   Legal doublets

Legal doublets are two legal terms from the English Legal Register paired up in a logical order and most frequently with the use of the conjunction, “and.” Examples -



Assault and battery

Act of physical violence aiming to hurt and inflict pain

Law and order

The order created by governmental laws and regulations

Breaking and entering

Act of breaking into somewhere unpermitted

Search and seizure

An arrest where the criminal is searched and the illegal stuff found in possession is seized

Terms and conditions

List of agreements


Conjunctions Binding the Pairs

Irreversible Binomials are often paired with the help of conjunctions between them. They can be classified based on whether there are conjunctions binding them together or not.

1.   With Conjunctions

There is a huge number of binomials that are linked with conjunctions or linkers. Based on what conjunction is used, these sets of binomials are divided into three distinct sections.

  • And

A large number of binomials in the English language are linked with the help of the conjunction, “And.” No matter what they are paired up with, these word pairs are always linked with the use of “and.” That means they are somehow similar in nature. Let’s take a look at a few examples -



Bow and arrow

A weapon used in combat in ancient warfare

Hugs and kisses

Show of sincere affection

Hit and run

A specific traffic law where vehicles collide but one or more of the perpetrators do not stop for police procedure

  •  Or

Another popular conjunction to link the binomials is the conjunction, “Or.” It should come second only to “And” based on how frequently it is used to link binomials in general. Being linked with “Or,” these word pairs usually have opposite senses and portray an either-or situation in language. Below are a few irreversible word pairs connected with, “Or” -                       



Take it or leave it

A term used to address that the offer is non-negotiable

The chicken or the egg

An unsolvable dilemma of which came first; signifies a circular process with no concrete point of start

Dead or alive

A term used for the situation where someone is sought for some sort of punishment so it does not matter in what state s/he is found

  •   Nor

The binomials linked with “Nor” usually pose neither-nor situations constructed by opposing sets of terms (logically or in their use) which by definition are negative in nature. Some example are listed below -       



(Neither) Fish nor fowl

Someone or something that is hard to identify or understand

(Neither) Hide nor hair

Something that has vanished without a trace

(Neither) Love nor money

It indicates that someone would do something in exchange for nothing

(Neither) Use nor ornament

(sth) Serves no purpose whatsoever

2.   Without Conjunctions

The Irreversible Binomials are not always linked with the use of conjunctions. So they can be categorized in this section not depending on the types of words used in the pair or the relation between them. It only depends on the fact that they do not have any linking words binding them. Examples -



Hoity toity

Silly or frivolous


People who depend primarily on food by hunting and gathering

Hoi polloi

Common people

Binomials or word pairs are used in everyday English language in plenty. The irreversible ones require a little more attention to detail when you are a non -native speaker of the language. Knowing to use them in the right pairs is highly important when collaborating with native speakers or just for the sake of using the language fluently or with authority. Fluency is directly proportional to building confidence in using it flexibly.


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